Thoughts on Silhouette – the absurdities of the handicap system

September 26, 2016

Silhouette runs in the 8.10 at Wolverhampton tomorrow at Wolverhampton (Tuesday 27th of September). The excellent Richard Kingscote maintains his partnership with the gelding in the mile and half a furlong maiden – he suggested this course and distance would be ideal after riding him last week, so let’s hope he is right. Despite the somewhat disparaging remarks in the Racing Post Silhouette didn’t run a bad race last week under Richard, doing a lot of work on the outside from a wide draw in a race run at furious pace, he was entitled to run out steam at the end and it was credit to the horse he managed a respectable fifth. One of the problems of big field all weather racing is that the draw makes a significant difference and a jockey has to call either to go forward or drop in in an attempt to avoid wasting ground by being stuck wide around the bends. Both tactics have their pitfalls and the way the race pans will inform whether it was a wise choice or not, one can only make a best guess as the shape the race will take in advance and sometimes its best to put a line through a run and move forward.

Silhouette is a horse that demonstrates one of the absurdities of the handicap system. Having shown no form at two in his two starts he returned a much stronger horse and more focused following a gelding operation over the winter and duly ran much better on his third career start at Newbury. He finished fifth and was duly given a handicap mark that was in similar relation to his ability and has run reasonably consistently ever since without being able to win a race but picking up a few small cheques on the way. Had he run a third time at two he would have been rated 25lbs shy of his ability as a three year old and no doubt won a couple of races, giving his owners a lot fun in the process. We are now left in a ridiculous situation where a horse who has more than average ability (the average allotted handicap mark being 59 – he is 70) is yet to win a race after ten starts. Were it not for a small injury he would have run again at two and like many others made a mockery of the system in its own way. The racing pyramid should be about rewarding merit, the best horses should win more races and more money, it is surely thus in any other sport. Whilst the intention of the handicap system is well and good in trying to create competitive races there are many other ways to create races that are close and interesting to watch without penalising horses of reasonable ability so that they have less chance of winning a race than the those of lesser ability, that through a quirk of the system and its manipulation win more races.

By returning to maiden company we are setting a different challenge, officially Silhouette is rated 1lb inferior to Best Laid Plans and must give her a 5lb fillies allowance, so technically he is 6lbs “wrong in the weights”. How the substance of Best Laid Plan’s form stacks up and how competitive she would be off her handicap mark is difficult to gauge accurately as it has been acquired running in maidens that look to have generally lacked depth. There is one vague line through her conqueror of last time out Van Dyke who was subsequently beaten comfortably off a mark of 75 into fourth with the third horse Wakame finishing a neck in front of him , the exact margin Wakame was ahead of Silhouette earlier in the season at Chepstow. Suffice to say there doesn’t appear much between the Best Laid Plans and Silhouette and unless Annoushka comes forward from her debut a fair bit it should be between the two horses. Hopefully Silhouette can emerge with a much deserved win for his patient owner and we can enjoy a glass of bubbly afterwards.

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